The Hypocrites

English Title: The Hypocrites

Original Title: Die Scheinheiligen

Country of Origin: Germany

Director: Thomas Kronthaler

Producer(s): Ismael Feichtl

Screenplay: Thomas Kronthaler

Cinematographer: Micki Stoiber

Editor: Bernd Schlegel

Runtime: 80 minutes

Genre: Heimatfilm, Satire, Comedy

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Johannes Demmel, Michael Emina, Wolfgang Fischer, Alfred Jaschke, Andreas Lechner, Werner Rom, Sepp Schauer, Maria Singer

Year: 2001

Volume: German

Synopsis:

Johannes (Demmel) is a young travelling carpenter, specialising in counterfeiting statues of Catholic saints. A major order by the priest Anton Selbertinger (Lechner) brings Johannes to the seemingly idyllic, small Bavarian town of Daxenbrunn, where the mayor, Matthias (Rom), and his corrupt friends in the town administration and local police are pursuing plans to build a fast food rest stop with a highway exit on land owned by the gnarly elderly widow Magdalena Trenner (Singer). Magdalena, who is embittered with the greedy village community as well as with reluctant saints, has no children and lives by herself. Deciding to accommodate Johannes and Theophile (Emina), an asylum seeker from Gambia, on her farm, Magdalena introduces the two men to the town community as the potential inheritors of her land. Matthias and his associates see their plans in danger and threaten Magdalena. The trio of outsiders, however, successfully fights the fast food restaurant project and becomes very popular with other marginalized villagers including women, youths and children. After an exuberant party at her house, Magdalena dies happily among her new friends. Johannes presents a fake testament to Matthias and his associates, naming the scouts of Daxenbrunn as the beneficiaries of Magdalena’s property. Accompanied by Theophile, Johannes leaves Daxenbrunn and travels to Rome to work on a large-scale order for the Vatican.


Critique:

With its numerous references to actual events, Thomas Kronthaler’s graduate thesis film is a satirical portrayal of provincial life in modern, rural Bavaria. Inspired by the lively debates surrounding the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant near Kronthaler’s own Bavarian home town Irschenberg, the author-director depicts a fictitious land struggle in the Catholic town of Daxenbrunn, through which the seemingly righteous community leaders are exposed as hypocritical petty criminals. With its allusions to the corruption scandals under the former Bavarian Prime Minister, Franz Josef Strauss, and the CSU, the long-term ruling party in Bavaria, and to the strong connection between Catholic Church and state, especially in provincial regions, the portrait of conservative and corruption-ridden Daxenbrunn also stands in for Bavaria.

 

In its parodic use of German Heimat genre conventions, The Hypocrites satirises ideas of provincial life and identity in rural Bavaria as they have been established in German Heimatfilme. Most prominently it subverts binaries such as ‘home’ and ‘foreign,’ ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ ‘self’ and ‘Other,’ and their connotations with what is morally ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ These themes are both central to 1950s Heimatfilme and to its filmic counter-reaction, the anti-Heimatfilme of the 1960s and 1970s. There is no clear-cut distinction between heroes and villains in the Heimat of Daxenbrunn, where the Schein is a central figure. The stock characters of Heimatfilme, such as the mayor, the priest, and the policemen – who represent moral authority in the patriarchal world order of the 1950s Heimatfilme – are highly involved in corruption and nepotism in Daxenbrunn. Social outsiders and rebel characters such as the travelling carpenter, the financially and socially independent widow, as well as the ‘foreigner’/asylum seeker, who are reminiscent of the villainous heroes of the anti-Heimatfilme, profit from their counterfeiting business receiving commissions from high-ranking members of a society from which they themselves are excluded. The Hypocrites satirically undermines the dialectical conceptions and illusory concepts intrinsic to both affirmative Heimat idylls and anti-Heimat utopias. Since categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ do not exist in the anti-idyllic Heimat world of Daxenbrunn, questions of ‘morality’ underlie entirely the individual’s self-interest, which is primarily focussed on personal and economic profit. As the Catholic Magdalena explains to Johannes, even saints are attuned to these ideals: ‘There are no false saints, and there are no true saints […] and only few of them are actually willing to help.’

 

Special intertextual references to the Western genre on the diegetic level and on the extra-diegetic level, point to an important historical influence of the anti-Heimatfilme in the 1960s and 1970s. Diegetic examples are most clearly seen in the comedic presentation of a fight scene between the outsiders Johannes and Theophile and locals at the town pub, and in the comedic shootout between policemen and the district administrator’s bodyguards in front of Magdalena’s farmhouse. Extra-diegetic examples are to be found in the film score. The parodic and ironic depiction of the impact of American culture on the post-war German search for identity – as illustrated in the ambitious fast food restaurant project of the Daxenbrunn town government – is typical of many recent German Heimatfilme written and produced by the ‘children’ of the 1968-generation (such as Kronthaler himself, who was born in 1967). 

Author of this review: Maria Irchenhauser